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‘Tender’ worthy despite flaws

Stuart Low, Staff Music Critic

(September 16, 2007) - Mercury Opera Rochester delivered a prairie gust of nostalgia from America's heartland Friday, in a spirited revival of Aaron Copland's opera The Tender Land (1954). The troupe deserves kudos for opening its third season with this appealing coming-of-age tale of a restless farm girl and a persuasive drifter. This Nazareth College Arts Center show deserves to be seen, despite a few ragged seams in its homespun fabric. The cast could have used a few tuning forks to go with its pitchforks. Intonation was often spotty, a situation aggravated by some out-of-sync moments between musicians and singers.

The Tender Land is often called folksy, but its melodies don't bubble up from the native soil like fresh apple cider. Instead, the music bends gracefully to back-country moods without any grandstanding. The plot traces a Midwestern girl's growing rebellion against the narrow confines of her Depression-era farm life. The set conveys her claustrophobia with its towering farmhouse beams and big harvest moon. In a heartbeat, Laurie falls for a drifter looking for harvest work. This could be the swiftest haystack romance ever: Call it love at first scythe. Yet her encounter with Martin propels her in a courageous new direction.

Ina Woods brought a bright-edged soprano and convincing vulnerability to the role of Laurie. As Martin, the tall Adam Ulrich had matinee-idol looks but an unsteady vocal technique. He hit many dead, off-pitch syllables on his way to the ringing "money notes." Korin Kormick displayed a lustrous mezzo-soprano as Ma Moss, and School of the Arts freshman Marguerite Frarey touched new heights of perkiness as Laurie's sister Beth.

This production added a novel touch by making the entire opera a flashback: A married, confident Laurie and Martin revisit the farm 20 years later. This adds a note of optimism only hinted at in the original. You know you're not in 1930s Kansas anymore.

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